Dijsselbloem counters Wilders’ EU exit claim

Jeroen Dijsselbloem March 2013.jpg

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who also heads the Eurogroup, has hit back at far-right politician Geert Wilders’ claim that leaving the European Union would be good for the Dutch economy.

Wilders said on Thursday (6 January) that the the Dutch economy, just emerging from recession, would see substantially higher growth if the Netherlands quit the European Union.

"We must become boss of our own money, our own budget, our own borders, and our own future again," Wilders told a news conference in The Hague, pointing to non-EU member Switzerland as an example.

Citing a report commissioned by his party, he said the Dutch economy would be 10 percent bigger in 10 years' time if the Netherlands were to leave the EU next year than if it stayed.

The average annual benefit would be nearly €10,000 per household over the next two decades, he said.

The report by the research consultancy Capital Economics, called "Nexit: Assessing the economic impact of the Netherlands leaving the European Union", said quitting would lead to higher growth by bringing control of monetary policy back to the Dutch central bank and allowing individual trade deals.

"This report proves not just that Nexit, a Dutch exit from the EU, is more positive than stumbling on in the EU, but it also offers the Netherlands an exit from the crisis," Wilders said.

Wilders, whose party is topping opinion polls in the run-up to European elections in May – often used as a protest vote against sitting governments – has long called for the Netherlands to quit the euro and claw back power from Brussels.

Dijsselbloem was quick to shoot down Wilders' proposals.

"The Netherlands is an economic powerhouse in Europe. We earn the bulk of our money in trade with EU countries so the Netherlands has a lot of interest in a single market with easy trade," Dijsselbloem told local media, adding that quitting the EU would be "very unwise".

While the Netherlands was a founding member of the European Union, signing up to its earliest predecessor in 1951, the last decade has seen a eurosceptic mood take hold, exacerbated by persistent sluggish economic performance.

While the government is pro-Europe, Prime Minister Mark Rutte last June called for a "more modest, more sober but more effective" European Union, with the emphasis on national sovereignty and far less interference from Brussels.

Some 45% of the Dutch are in favour of European Union membership, with 37% opposed, according to an opinion poll by Maurice de Hond published on Jan. 20.

Dropping the euro in favour of the national currency would only lead to temporary volatility, Mark Pragnell of Capital Economics said, adding that the Netherlands would not lose the EU as a trade market, given the importance of the Dutch port of Rotterdam, Europe's largest.

Last year, Capital Economics published a report commissioned by Simon Wolfson, a British eurosceptic businessman, exploring ways in which a country could quit the euro.

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